The Sunday Mail
Sunday Mail Reporters
Striking public sector doctors have agreed to return to work with immediate effect after an agreement with Government on a plethora of grievances that had witnessed the health practitioners’ stay away from work for close to a month.
The doctors’ representatives yesterday agreed to return to work within 48 hours, following yesterday’s meeting which was also attended by representatives of other health sector labour unions including nurses.
The meeting, held under the auspices of the Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel (HSBNP) also resolved to improve conditions of service including a duty free vehicle import scheme.
While Government agreed to unfreeze posts in the health sector, it will, however, not pay salaries in United States dollars.
The doctors will also get retention allowances disbursed by donors in foreign currency.
Furthermore, doctors who participated in the illegal industrial action will face disciplinary action.
In a statement last night, Health Services Board executive chairman Dr Paulinus Sikosana said: “There was a health service bipartite negotiating forum this afternoon and we are glad to announce that there has been a resolution of the labour dispute; an agreement was signed by the parties.
“The doctors on strike have agreed to go back to work starting immediately until 17:00 on Monday.
“Government is pleased that within the next few hours the situation in our affected hospitals will be returning back to normalcy. We wish to thank everyone who worked hard to make this happen.”
Commenting on the latest developments last night Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Mr Nick Mangwana said: “Starting from today onwards some of our doctors will begin going to work.
“The disciplinary hearing are going ahead; they started yesterday and are ongoing.
“Government’s position on US dollar payment has not changed. We will not pay workers in US dollars.
“There will be a one off duty exemption scheme graduating according to one’s grade for the importation of cars.
“Also Government has agreed to unfreeze posts and increase the amount offered from US$10 million to US$12 million.
“Government is very firm on the issue that it will run a very strict financial discipline and will never make an undertaking outside the budget.
“We will respect our budget cycle; we intend to adhere to a prudent fiscal discipline.
“The budget is a Government financial plan and Government will not go out of its budget. We want to bring down budget deficit and instil fiscal discipline.”
Government’s negotiating team was led by Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals chief executive officer Mr Thomas Zigora and included Zimbabwean pathologist Dr Maxwell Hove.
The doctors were led by Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association secretary general Dr Mthabisi Bebhe.
In a statement jointly signed by doctors’ representatives, Government and the HSBNP, the doctors were directed to return to work within 48 hours.
“Based on this agreement, ZHDA will engage its members who are on industrial action to go back to work within the next 48 hours,” read the statement.
The agreement also resolved to provide better remuneration and flexible working conditions for the doctors.
“Government gave reassurance on the previous positions to review allowances in April 2019. There should be continued engagement between Government and Health Workers concerning remuneration in US dollars,” read part of the joint statement.
“The Apex panel was tasked with drafting a position paper with the required adjustments for health workers salaries by the end of March 2019.
“The principle of flexible working hours will be in place until there was a review of remuneration in 2019.
“Apex suggested that on implementation of the flexible working hours, Government should allow for the downward review of the 40 working hours per week.
“However, Government was of the view that the issue could be finalised in the meeting as it needed approval by the Principals.”
On unfreezing of posts, the parties agreed the following:
“The critical posts required to bring relief to health service delivery would cost an estimated $12,5 million which exceeds the $10 million offered by Treasury which would include posts for senior registrars. Currently 214 GMO posts with treasury concurrence are available.”
As part of the agreement, doctors also received an advance on the vehicle loan scheme with Treasury fulfilling its earlier position to release the remaining $6 million to complete funding for the Health Service Vehicle Loan Scheme while there will be additional provisions for duty-free vehicles.
“Health workers on own volition would get duty free certificates, a scheme which would operate separately from the vehicle loan scheme. The duty free scheme would not interfere with the original vehicle loan scheme, coupled with issuance of the duty free certificates.
“The maximum values for the duty-free scheme shall be US$7 500 for JRMOs and SRMOs, US$15 000 for middle level doctors (SHOs, HMOs, GMOs Junior Registrars and District Medical Officers; and US$30 000 for Senior Doctors (Senior Registrars, PMDs and Consultants. This would be applicable to these and their equivalent and below grades. The Scheme is to commence from January 2019.”
The parties also reaffirmed that there would be no victimisation of doctors who went on strike.
“Disciplinary hearings of the remaining cases shall proceed and will be done by senior doctors. There shall be no dismissals or suspensions and no further pursuing of court proceedings after this agreement. No member of the ZHDA and ZiGRA shall be answerable to anything pertaining to this industrial action.”
They also agreed that December salaries for doctors and radiographers who participated in the illegal industrial action to be paid in lieu of leave days by the end of January 2019 and also agreed that all doctors and radiographers whose salaries were suspended in December receive advance payments for January.
Other resolutions reached include improving accommodation services and housing allowances for health workers and guaranteed employment for all doctors who successfully complete training.
The parties also agreed to create a Health Service Commission with the assistance of the Attorney General.
“This shall be achieved through constitutional alignment of the Health Services Act and any other relevant legislation. The process had already begun, and drafting by the AG’s office would commence soon,” read the statement.
The parties also noted improvements of medical supplies at NatPharm.
“Government is still in the process of distributing the supplies to all Government hospitals. Government assures its employees of long term commitments to ensure availability of basic medicines and sundries in all institutions.”
Last week, President Mnangagwa cut short his leave to work closely with Vice President Chiwenga in resolving the long-running impasse between Government and the doctors.